Florida Scrub Lizard Reintroduction in Palm Beach County

By Kevin Enge

In February-March 2019, FWC staff and volunteers collected 100 Florida scrub lizards (Sceloporus woodi) from two state parks in southern Martin County and released them in county-owned Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area in central Palm Beach County.  The endemic Florida scrub lizard has been petitioned for federal listing as threatened, and an FWRI status survey conducted in 2017-18 determined that the southern extent of its range along the Atlantic coast now consists of two scrub preserves in northern Palm Beach County.  A 1986 status survey recorded the species from 15 of 16 sites visited in Palm Beach County and four sites in Broward County.  Since then, its range has contracted 77 km northward along the coast.  The species is still widely distributed on ridges in the central peninsula, but disjunct populations that once occurred along the southwestern Gulf coast in Lee and Collier counties are extinct.

Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area contains approximately 24 hectares of suitable habitat, which consists of extensive areas of bare sand and clumps of scrub oaks that provide shade and cover.  Areas of bare sand are used for foraging, basking, and social interactions.  Scrub lizard populations disappeared from this urban preserve circa 2005, possibly because of feral cat predation (this is no longer such a problem). Hatchling scrub lizards were observed in the preserve on 12 June.

If this reintroduction is successful, the occupied range of the species will be extended 37 km south.  This population will be monitored using visual encounter surveys every two months for the next two years.  A toe was removed from each released lizard and preserved as a genetic sample in case we wish to know the number of founder animals contributing to the established population and their relatedness.  This experimental project was a collaborative effort between FWRI staff, HSC staff in the West Palm Beach office, Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection.  There is an FWRI video on this project, here: https://youtu.be/tENf2P80FFU.